We’ve all had our dark days and, unfortunately, we will all have more at some point — brought on by sickness, bereavement and all the other traumas life throws at us. Days when getting up out of bed is hard, let alone living a ‘normal’ life. Hopefully, for most of us, it is a temporary affliction and certainly, if it goes on for too long we should seek help (if you’re not sure but how long is too long, talk it over with your GP).
After much research and trial and error after dealing with an ongoing traumatic situation in my life, I have found that the things that make the most difference in the worst times boil down to just these three — they seem very basic and almost irrelevant when you are dealing with grief or illness but they work to keep you grounded in yourself and keep your body healthy while you are getting through the tough times:
Everything begins and ends with sleep. Sleep sets us up to recover in mind and body and lack of it can lead to a downward spiral of ill health and clouded thinking — sleep deprivation can cause slowed mental function, lowered energy levels, weight gain and mood swings.
For an extensive list of ways to improve your sleep check out this collection of ideas from those who have been through it themselves.
Eat and Drink Well
Feed your mind and your body. Drinking water is actually a lot more important than people realise and for reasons most of us aren’t aware of: dehydration can cause headaches, confusion, lethargy, dry skin, dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, rapid heart rate and worse if it goes on for too long.
Most of us don’t drink enough water — if you are feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated so thirst is not an indication of the need to drink, as is often thought: it is a red light signal that your body’s not doing well. Thirst is not like hunger in that it is an indication that we need food, it is more like pain — it is telling you something is wrong and your body is getting too low in water. We need to pre-empt thirst by making sure we drink enough as a matter of habit.
The effects of lack of food are more commonly known — it also causes confusion, lethargy, moodiness and, over time, lowered functioning across all bodily systems as a result of malnutrition. Low blood sugar caused by lack of food, in turn, causes paleness, confusion, shaking and eventually loss of consciousness. Our brains function on sugar, so even that stuff with such a bad reputation plays a vital function in our body.
A good meal in high-stress times is both high in calories and nourishment — that instant comfort food fix combined with lasting nutritional benefits for the mind and body. And a lot for good for the soul too.
This seems irrelevant and frivolous but it actually plays a very important part in mental health — I realised this after reading Ingrid Poulson’s account of her recovery after her ex-husband killed her children and her father. Although I was skeptical about its positive effects at the time, I figured if anyone was in a position to say it was important, it would be her.
In practice, this is simply a matter of making sure you shower daily, put on deodorant and clean clothes, keep your hair clean and tidy, clean your teeth and so on.
Although it may be a huge challenge at your worst times, and not feel like it is making any difference, it actually does make a difference that you will notice over time. Hygiene practices make you human — when you stop maintaining personal hygiene, you are entering into a whole other realm of depression — one that it may take some time to work your way out and one you will definitely need to seek help for.
Getting yourself up and into that shower every day can be a real struggle (especially in winter!) but you will thank yourself for it in the long run — and it will keep people off your back, too! There is nothing so worrying to a loving observer than someone who is obviously in such a bad way they are not taking care of themselves on a very basic level and you can’t blame people for being worried when they see this — you would be concerned too if the positions were reversed.
Of course, there are many, many other things we can do to help ourselves in bad times — talk to someone, whether a friend or a professional, exercise, get out in the fresh air and sun, get a companion animal, plan a holiday, take up a hobby, journalling and on and on…
But if you concentrate on the top three in your very hardest time they will set the foundation for recovery.
And, if you find you are not coping or have been feeling depressed for too long please do book in to discuss it with your doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, ask around for recommendations — all GPs have their strong areas and there are some that specialise in and are very good at supporting people going through a difficult experience.